Amtrak furloughs could be avoided with proper action in Congress

Published: September 2, 2020

Last updated on September 14th, 2020

Amtrak, despite having been given $1 billion in funding under the CARES Act to prevent furloughs as a result of COVID-19, has announced that more than 500 – 509 to be exact – SMART members are targeted to be furloughed, effective Oct. 1.

Carrier leadership announced Sept. 1 that approximately 1,950 unionized jobs are being targeted by Amtrak’s latest cost-cutting measures, which come on the heels of voluntary buyouts from earlier this year and a reduction in service on a number of long-distance routes.

Undoubtedly, the pandemic has rocked the global economy. However, some countries have it under control and can focus on virus containment and economic recovery while others, such as the United States, are seeing cases continue to rise (more than 6 million nationwide) along with deaths attributed to the virus (approaching 200,000).

“It is our hope to recall furloughed employees as soon as business conditions or funding permits,” Amtrak wrote in its notification of the furloughs.

But will additional funding for Amtrak materialize? There’s a transportation bill – The Moving Forward Act (or HR 2, which contains the INVEST Act) — sitting before the Senate that provides funding for Amtrak that could have averted these furloughs. However, Republican leaders and White House staff declared the bill dead on arrival after it was passed by the House.

“This week, another 2,000 workers learned that they will be losing their jobs due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. This time it is largely Amtrak employees who operate trains, provide onboard services, and support passengers who will bear the brunt of this administration’s failure to lead the country during this pandemic. The jobs at the center of today’s announcement are good paying, union jobs that sustain middle class families and will be difficult to replace, especially in a time of sky-high unemployment,” said U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. “In July, I led the House in passing the Moving Forward Act, which tripled funding for Amtrak to nearly $29 billion. Later that month, the House also approved transportation appropriations legislation that provided $10 billion for Amtrak, including emergency appropriations that contained protections to prevent the furloughing of workers. In fact, our Committee will soon be hearing from workers who are impacted by these furloughs. It’s time for Republicans in the Senate to stop sitting on these important bills and do their job to protect Amtrak employees and so many others currently in need.”
Next week, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials will be holding a hearing on Amtrak’s response to the COIVD-19 pandemic. On the docket to be discussed are these furloughs and the carrier’s reduction in service, among others.

Our union is working hand-in-hand with the subcommittee and with receptive members in Congress to see that these cuts are reversed.

“We are doing everything in our power to make sure that this nation’s decision makers are fully aware of the ongoing events at Amtrak and the devastating effects they’re poised to have on our membership,” SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy R. Ferguson said. “One branch of Congress has already greenlit the money. It’s time for the Senate and the White House to do the same.”